Our country’s Latin motto, meaning “out of many, one” was adopted by Congress in 1782. The founders of our nation saw the need to join together those thirteen colonies in order to win independence for all of them. Unity was necessary in order to face the power of King George’s armies. But those colonies were very different, too, as different as Connecticut was from Georgia. So the states maintained their identities, even while joined in a union. That union, tested so severely, became the “more perfect union” in the blood of the Civil War, and under the wise, courageous leadership of Lincoln.
This same struggle, between being separate and being united, is constantly going on in our lives. I love having time to myself, the freedom to take a walk in the woods or to sit and read a book without interruption. Each of us wants to be a separate person, not dominated by someone else. We resist letting our jobs take over our lives. We want the freedom to be ourselves. But we bargain away our individual freedoms again and again for something precious like our families. We cooperate, we sacrifice, we share, we love one another. Paul wrote “love one another” in virtually every one of his letters. We choose again and again to share our lives and our freedom.
An acquaintance of mine, a former college roommate, never married. And I can see why. He has an intense need to live his own way without giving in to others’ opinions or preferences. Being single allows him to do that. But he’s always talking about people he visits and friends with whom he has traveled. We all want connections. That is what helps us make sense of life. We want to be ourselves, but we can’t be fully human unless we are connected with others. In the movie, “Castaway,” Tom Hanks was stranded alone for months on an island. But he kept his sanity by painting a face on a volleyball that survived the plane crash, and named the ball “Wilson.” After that he constantly talked to Wilson, sharing his thoughts with this imaginary friend. We need others in order to be ourselves.
Some countries reduce individual freedom for the purposes of the whole society. In China today, the government is creating a system whereby everyone is constantly rated on how well they support the government’s goals. Every decision, every phone call, every internet search made is fed into a system that analyzes one’s patriotism. Every new cell phone has an automatic reporting feature that feeds this information into the state computers. People will resist this, but those who don’t cooperate well automatically miss out on job promotions, scholarships, better homes, and so on. In contrast, our nation’s system is messy and our arguments are sometimes raucous. But we can celebrate the freedom we each have to live and make choices without worrying about “big brother” looking over our shoulder. We are privileged to live in such a wonderful country. I am so thankful.
On a deeper level, we have Christian freedom. Jesus has set us free, free to love and to share sacrificially. “If you try to hang on to your life [ for yourself ], you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Luke 9:24 NLT). Jesus invites us to give ourselves for the good of others out of our own free choice. We are allowed to be individuals with our freedom. But we are only fulfilled when we give ourselves to the best causes, to love and serve others, to follow the Lord who leads us with his own love, not with force. That is the unity he invites us into. That is the freedom that makes life wonderful.